Coastal view of St Andrews Castle, Scotland

This evening, I am posting information on one of the most important fortifications on Scotland’s east coast, namely St Andrews Castle, Fife. This is located in the town of St Andrews which is a popular visitor destination combining history, learning, culture, a coastal resort, and the home of golf.

The site is a logical one for defensive purposes, being a coastal promontory protected on the north and east by cliffs and the sea whilst a deep ditch protects the south and west sides.

A castle has occupied the site since the 12th century with the current structure dating from a re-build in the late 14th century. Over the years St Andrews Castle has been fully exposed to the physical turbulence of Scottish history including the Wars of Independence ( 13th C) and Reformation (16th C). A brief chronology is as follows:

  • St Andrews was the power base of the bishops who controlled the Scottish Church during medieval times. (Close by is the ruins of the once magnificent St. Andrews Cathedral.) The castle formed the residence-and power base- of the Scottish bishops from around AD1200.
  • During the Wars of Independence with England the castle frequently changed hands and was subject to a cycle of  destruction and repair. In 1337 it was dismantled by Sir Andrew Moray to prevent the building falling into English hands.
  • The castle remained a ruin for about 50 years post 1337 until rebuilt by Bishop Walter Traill in the late 1300s.
  • The 1540s witnessed major turbulence when the castle was under control of Cardinal David Beaton (1539-46). This Catholic official took a firm stance against the encroaching Reformation and had George Wishart burnt to death for heresy in 1546.Within a short period the Cardinal himself had been murdered by Protestants who took control of the castle and then came under siege for 12 months until bombardment by a French fleet forced the surrender by John Knox and others. During the long siege of 1546-7  underground mines (tunnels) and counter-mines were dug under the castle and these can still be viewed.
  • Repairs were undertaken to the castle in the 1560s by Archbishop Hamilton who was, unfortunately, hanged in 1571.
  • Post the 1560 Reformation some attempts were made to re-establish the authority of the bishops and by implication the castle but the final death knell occurred after 1689 when bishops were abolished by King William and Queen Mary subsequent to which the castle progressively fell into ruin, a process exacerbated by the local council who used the masonry to repair and extend the harbour pier. There us another dimension in that the coast on which the castle sits is subject to erosion.

A tour of the castle ruins can include the South Front, Fore Tower, Entrance Gateway, South Range, Blockhouse, Chapel Range, Mine and Countermine, East Range, Kitchen Tower, North Range, Sea Tower and ‘Bottle Dungeon’.

St Andrews Castle, Fife, Scotland

St Andrews Castle, Scotland

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